|Leadership and the Academy|
Su Yon Pak is the senior director and associate professor of integrative and field-based education at Union Theological Seminary. In addition to teaching field education, she oversees new initiatives at Union including the Edible Churchyard, the Institute for Women, Religions, and Globalization, and Congregational Revitalization. Pak’s life and research passion include food justice, criminal justice, elders and spirituality, religious women’s leadership, and integrative education pedagogies. Her publications include "Women Leadership in Asian American Protestant Churches” in Religious Leadership: A Reference Handbook (SAGE Publications, forthcoming); "Attentive Teaching in Diverse Communities and Lifelong Faith Formation” in Singing the Lord’s Song in a New Land: Korean American Practices of Faith (Westminster John Knox Press, 2005); and "I’s Wide Shut: Eyelid Surgery as a Window into the Spirituality of Korean American Adolescent Girls” in The Sacred Selves of Adolescent Girls: Hard Stories of Race, Class, and Gender (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2010). Pak is currently working on a book called Untangling the Yarn: Theological Reflections on Caring for Mother.
Every year, in preparation for the Annual Meeting of the AAR, many scholars — established and developing — busy themselves in the work of the Academy. In steering committees of the Program Units, as well as in the governance committees, hours of meeting, sorting, negotiating, and planning go on in service of the guild of religious scholars. They are taking a leadership role in the AAR.
Leadership in the academy has been largely about "thought" leadership. Scholars are trained and expected to take intellectual leadership in the important work of charting a new course in their fields of study. But I am interested in broadening academic leadership to include other aspects of being an academic: teaching, mentoring, advising, chairing a committee, advocating, administrating, managing conflict, and taking up spiritual leadership. It is about the building up of higher education institutions. This kind of leadership requires an understanding of universities as carrying out a more implicit mandate (in Wendell Berry’s words) to form students to be "responsible heirs and members of human culture." Leadership, then, requires not only understanding institutions and skills of administration, but also a desire to educate the whole human being — mind, heart, body, and spirit — for the flourishing of human life on this fragile planet. It is about living an integrated, interdependent life.
As I ponder this mandate, I think back to my own doctoral training. I had a great mentor who guided me to develop the academic rigor of being a scholar and teacher. She also taught me that it is one’s passion for the topic that drives one’s thinking, research, and writing. After I graduated from my program, I moved into academic administration due to family constraints while teaching as an adjunct at a nearby institution. During my twelve years of experience in academic administration, I found myself doing a different kind of scholarship and research. I was learning about people, discovering how an institution ticks, learning to read dynamics of power and conflict, to supervise and manage staff, to allocate scare resources and, most importantly, I was learning about myself and my own vocational discernment. In the process, I was learning ways of thinking, being, and doing (to borrow Charles Foster and his colleagues’ framework) that are integral to my vision of professional identity and practice. I was cultivating leadership imagination that integrates knowledge, skill, moral integrity, and spiritual commitments, which is at the heart of leadership formation. And as I engaged in this learning, I realized that leadership begins from within — from an integrated sense of self that moves outwards from there. As Parker Palmer borrows from Rilke, "By doing it, we offer what is sacred within us to the life of the world." Having come to this realization by doing, and reflecting on that doing, I have come to value this "scholarship" and see it as a necessary component to any doctoral program. It is important for academic guilds like the AAR and the Society of Biblical Literature to recognize this work as scholarship and assist in this kind of leadership formation.
Of course I would be remiss in talking about leadership without recognizing barriers to such leadership. Of many barriers that one could face (due to one’s race, gender, sexual identity, disability, and class, for example), as a member of the Status of Women in the Profession Committee, I am particularly concerned about barriers for women in leadership. There are many pages written about women in leadership, but none captures my imagination like the work of Alice Eagly and Linda Carli. In their extensive social scientific research on how women become leaders, they examine women’s paths to top leadership positions. They consider three types of barriers: concrete wall, glass ceiling, and labyrinth. In the United States, barriers women face have shifted from a metaphor of a "concrete wall," where women were denied entry to prestigious (read male-dominated) careers, to a "glass ceiling" or "stained-glass ceiling," whereby women were granted access to entry-level positions in those careers but denied high-level positions. In Asian-American communities, the term "bamboo ceiling" has been used to describe racial discrimination that bars Asian Americans from accessing top-level positions. Eagli and Carli contend that a metaphor of "labyrinth" more accurately portrays women’s path to leadership. A labyrinth, unlike a concrete wall or glass ceiling, has a route to the center. The passage, though, is not direct. It is circuitous, full of twists and turns, some of which are unexpected. A labyrinth contains many obstacles, some tangible and some not so tangible. Having more responsibility for childcare and eldercare is tangible. A colleague’s unease with women in leadership may not be so tangible. I would add that this metaphor applies to other minoritized groups, such as people of color, LGBTQ communities, persons with disability, and persons from a low economic class. The route to the center (not the top) is there, but if the labyrinth is like a walled garden, the center cannot be seen unless you have an aerial view. So proximity to the center cannot be accurately assessed. It requires perseverance and resilience. It requires negotiating the barriers and finding ways around them. It speaks to divergent strategies and thoughtful problem-solving abilities women employ to become leaders.
A labyrinth, as a symbol and spiritual practice of being on a sacred journey, offers us another perspective. It suggests a different route to leadership. It’s not about going up to the top, as the image of the glass ceiling suggests. Rather, it is going in to the center. Walking the labyrinth is a practice of wholeness, integration, and healing. I suggest that leadership formation and process need to be like walking the labyrinth — at each turn, you integrate more parts of yourself and become more whole than the previous turn. And once in, you have to exit the center by the same circuitous path. This movement of going into the center and then out again is the movement of leadership. Yes, "by doing it, we offer what is sacred within us to the life of the world."
Given the discussion thus far, what can we offer our doctoral students by way of training and education? If we are to broaden the "scholarship" of the academy to include fostering of leadership imagination that integrates knowledge, skill, moral integrity, and spiritual commitments, what does this education look like? Let me offer two thoughts.
First, I am struck by the call for renewal that Parker Palmer and Arthur Zajonc lay out in their book The Heart of Higher Education: A Call to Renewal (Jossey-Bass, 2010). They ask us to transform higher education as a place where intellectual rigor and compassion and love are united, and where educating the whole person is central. They advocate for integrative education, which aims to "think the world together" rather than "think it apart." The making of a scholar requires that one learns to take a question or idea and dismantle it, critically examine it, and interrogate it. This work of "thinking the world together" is not only counter-cultural to how we do scholarship, but is frowned upon as "fluff" or a less rigorous form of study. We need a hospitable space to practice, experiment, and converse together towards integrative education. Like the image of a labyrinth, this kind of education progresses inward to the center, not upward to the top. It requires the integration of different knowledge, life experiences, and moral vision at each turn in the circuitous path. It educates towards wholeness.
Second, the curricular content of doctoral programs needs revising in specific ways. In order for the scholarship to include teaching, mentoring, administrating, advising, and community organizing, for instance, we need to offer training in that area. With more doctoral students graduating each year and competing for a very limited number of faculty positions in the academy, this need is not just philosophical, but practical. Students need to be trained in multiple ways of being in the academy. If research and writing is what they want to do, they may need a "day job," which may be in administration or as a hybrid faculty-administrator. So, here is my partial dream list: what if, as part of the doctoral program, a student was invited to better understand organizations through organizational theory and leadership? As a faculty member, she will be working in a higher educational institution and perhaps serving as a chair of a department or as the dean. She will have a better chance of understanding the culture of an institution, the nature of its conflicts, and be able to create a process for resolutions. What if, as part of the doctoral program, a student learned to organize and move a community through a change process? How about learning to read a budget and cash flow statement and create a budget? Or learning about fundraising and how to seek grants? What about knowing his own Myers-Briggs personality type, Kolb learning style, multiple intelligences, and Enneagram personality type? What about exploring contemplative pedagogy for teaching of religion? What about learning to be coached and directed by a spiritual director or executive/life coach? What about having an explicit conversation about her spiritual life and the vocation of an academic? As Frederick Buechner says, if vocation is "the place where the heart’s deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger," how do we create a hospitable space for this exploration and reflection?
In a month or so, thousands of scholars of religion will be descending on Chicago for the Annual Meeting of the AAR. In the busyness and the business of panel sessions, committee meetings, and networking over meals, I hope we will give some intentional thought to forming leadership. As scholars of religion, our very subject of study deals with human longing for wholeness and ultimate reality. If we can’t do it here, where can we?